It’s been almost a year since life changed for all of us, seemingly overnight and without warning. I remember getting the message on Friday, March 13, 2020 that my son wouldn’t be returning to school on Monday. I was sitting at my desk at work, not completely surprised at this turn of events, because one by one, we were all getting those calls, each chime, ring or phone vibration signaling that we would soon be headed into the unknown.
Only we didn’t know it then. Or maybe it’s more likely that we couldn’t know it then. As mamas, we were focused on logistics – arranging child care for Monday, figuring out how to explain this “break” from school without completely freaking our kids out, how to help them continue to feel safe in a world that was safe no longer without lying to them.
I was surprised with the level of frustration I experienced walking into work that Monday morning and learning we were staying open (at least that was the assumption we worked under at that time). It didn’t make sense to me from a social distancing perspective – why quarantine our children if parents were just going to expose them by going to work – but I was also deeply worried for my son. He had been making so much progress in his preschool program and I didn’t want him to regress. I became fixated over the next two days on problem solving this, wondering how I could turn myself into an OT wunderkind while momming, wifing and working full time.
I wondered how I was going to do it all.
I was anxious and angry. But in my defense, it is the 21st century. How come we hadn’t figured out how to make this happen yet? How come we hadn’t figured out how to do it all?
I think it’s because we’re not supposed to.
Yes. I said it. It’s not that we can’t do it all. It’s that we shouldn’t have to.
I’ll say it one more time for the mamas who have a cub climbing over them right now. We may have put a man on the moon and a rover on Mars but no one can figure out how to turn mothers into all the things because we shouldn’t be all the things.
We shouldn’t do all the things.
And you know what I’ve actually learned during this trying time? That we don’t have to do or be all the things and the kids are still gonna be alright.
D.W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, introduced the concept of the “good enough mother” in 1953 after observing the benefit of imperfect parenting on children. In fact, he was able to quantify “good enough,” stating that a mother (it was 1953 after all) only has to consistently meet her child’s needs through warm, nurturing caregiving 30% of the time to grow children into well-adjusted adults.
That means for 70% of the time, getting our child’s needs met is a collaborative effort between us, them and life. When things don’t go their way, when they are faced with disappointment or stress or the thousands of “No, David” moments that seemingly take place daily in quarantine, these are actually opportunities for them to problem solve and build resilience IF we’ve given them the skills to do this through our “good enough” parenting.
I’ve known this for a long time. It’s the reason I named my blog Confessions of a Good Enough Mother. But there’s a difference between knowing this and feeling it in my heart, allowing it to offer me comfort as I hold my head in my hands, berating myself for yet another mommy fail. This difference was why I found myself Googling fine motor activities for preschoolers on Monday, March 13, 2020 while grinding my teeth and swallowing my anger and it’s why I kept on worrying and worrying and worrying about my oldest as we welcomed 2021.
Only recently have I come to deeply feel the magic hidden within good enough mothering, revealed in ordinary yet imperfect moments. Both of my boys are early risers and while they enjoy snuggling with big mama, they’d probably prefer to get downstairs to resume the wrestling match that goes unfinished every night. One Saturday morning, after a night of restless sleep, I was in no mood to be mama at 6:00am nor was I in a space to oversee the negotiations taking place between a 5 and 2.5 year old over what space they got in the bed.
So I did what most exhausted, bleary-eyed mamas who are in pandemic Saturday survival mode do. I grabbed my cell phone, told them to lie down, be quiet and put on YouTube.
While scrolling through the list of Sesame Street’s Monster Foodies to see if there were any we haven’t seen, I came upon The Monster at the End of this Story, starring Grover. It offered 26 minutes of Grover and a story my 2.5 year old loves and 26 blissful minutes of “resting” my eyes while they watched. Every so often one of them would protest, usually because the hand holding the phone would fall as I nodded off, landing on their chest or face.
Not my best moment but certainly not my worst. Just an ordinary, imperfect moment that delayed getting up and getting our day started.
A few weeks and multiple viewings later, I was video chatting with my sister, who was telling me she felt nervous about an upcoming event in her life. My oldest was dancing to the Paw Patrol theme song when he heard her say this and he came running to the phone. Taking the phone from me, he said “auntie, did I just hear you say you were nervous? Mommy has something on her phone that can help. It’s called having courage. She showed it to me and it was Grover learning from Rosita and Cookie Monster how taking deep breaths and talking to yourself can help you have courage even when you’re scared. I’ll show you.” He gave me the phone and demonstrated taking a deep breath. And then he yelled “good luck with your courage,” running off to watch Paw Patrol while yelling for his brother to come join him.
Good luck with your courage? Mommy has something on her phone that can help? While I was just surviving life at 6:00am on a Saturday morning and accidentally hitting them in the head with my cell phone, my 5 year old was learning how to be brave AND how to pass that message on.
This is the magic hidden within good enough parenting, the fruit of tender care and the benefit of not doing it all.
Mamas, it’s time to take a step back and look for the magic in your ordinary, imperfect parenting moments. It’s there, I promise you. Once you see it, let that magic offer you comfort when you feel guilty and are being hard on yourself. Let it help you release the need to be everything to everyone, especially your children. Let it allow you to feel in your heart that while things might not be okay, your kids will be.
You’re kids are going to be alright because you, mama, are good enough.